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The Role of Federal Regulations in a Commercial Trucking Accident

On Behalf of | Mar 31, 2021 | Personal Injury

Commercial trucks are obviously much larger and heavier vehicles than normal passenger cars. Such trucks are also subject to special rules when on the road. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) establishes and enforces nationwide safety regulations for commercial motor vehicles. And if a commercial trucking accident is the result of a driver or trucking company violating FMCSA regulations, that can serve as critical proof of negligence if the accident’s victims subsequently file a personal injury lawsuit.

Here is a brief rundown of some of the key FMCSA regulations and how they can affect a truck accident case.

Was the Driver Properly Licensed?

Just because you have a regular driver’s license, that does not mean you are capable or permitted to operate a big rig. A person must first obtain and hold a separate commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate such vehicles. The FMCSA itself does not issue CDLs; each state’s department of motor vehicles handles licensing. But the FMCSA does set standards for testing and licensing.

There are three separate classes of CDLs, each of which applies to a different weight of commercial truck. A CDL may also contain one or more endorsements or restrictions. These specify things such as whether or not a CDL holder can carry passengers or hazardous materials, or if they are not qualified to operate trucks with certain kinds of equipment like a manual transmission.

If a driver involved in a truck accident did not have the proper CDL for their vehicle, that can demonstrate reckless or negligent conduct, not only on the part of the driver, but also the truck owner.

Did the Driver Get Enough Rest?

Commercial truck drivers are often under pressure to make their deliveries on time. This can lead a driver to push themselves to spend too many hours on the road. Such fatigue is a common factor in causing truck accidents.

To reduce this risk, the FMCSA has strict “hours of service” regulations. This refers to the maximum time that a truck driver can spend on duty without resting. For commercial vehicles that carry property (i.e., cargo but not passengers), a driver may drive a maximum of 11 hours following 10 hours off duty, but they may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty. A driver must also take at least a 30-minute break after spending 8 hours driving without a break. If the driver is operating in adverse conditions, such as bad weather, they may extend the 11-hour and 14-hour limits by up to 2 hours.

Even if a driver fully complies with FMCSA hours of service rules, any evidence of fatigue or “falling asleep at the wheel” can still be useful as proof of negligence in causing an accident.

Was the Truck Too Heavy?

FMCSA regulations do not just apply to drivers. They also apply to the trucks themselves. For example, a commercial vehicle with a single axle cannot weigh more than 20,000 pounds, including any cargo. For two-axle trucks, the limit is 34,000 pounds. If a truck is overloaded beyond its maximum weight, that can lead to brake failure, tire blowouts, rollovers, and a host of other potentially catastrophic consequences.

To help protect against overweight trucks, drivers are required to periodically stop at weigh stations. But some drivers fail to “lighten their load” even after they are found to be overweight. Once again, this is clear evidence of negligent and reckless conduct that puts other people on the road at risk in the event of an accident.

Speak with a Council Bluffs, Iowa, Truck Accident Lawyer

A commercial trucking accident often involve far more complex questions of fact and law than your typical passenger vehicle crash. That is why it is important to work with an experienced Iowa truck accident attorney who can review your case and advise you on the best course of action. Contact the Telpner Peterson Law Firm, LLP, today to schedule a consultation.